THE DANGEROUS ANIMALS CLUB
by Stephen Tobolowsky
As advertised, Tobolowsky (Tobo) gives us a quirky account of his rise to the status of one of Hollywood’s most successful (yet anonymous) character actors. Tobo has appeared in numerous movies and television series. I remember him best for his appearances in Glee and Heroes. I was reassured to read that, as an actor, he was just as mystified by the plot of Heroes as I was, as a viewer.
Tobo begins his book by recalling his boyhood in Oak Cliff, Texas. There, he and a friend make it their mission to scour the neighbourhood in hope of capturing and bringing home the most dangerous animals they can find. It’s a funny story, but maybe a little misleading as the title of the book.
Most of the book follows Tobo’s long and meandering struggle to make it as a professional actor. Some of the anecdotes he tells are very amusing, such as when he is performing for a Santa Monica theatre company for children. This is Tobo’s first professional gig and he has had to memorize his lines phonetically since he doesn’t know Spanish. The moment of truth arrives; he is supposed to say, Pasa, jovincita (“Come in, little girl”). Instead he blurts out, Peto, jovincita which means “Fart, little girl.” This brings the down the house as such mistakes are apt to do with an audience of eight-year-olds. He is fired after the performance.
But Stephen Tobolowsky is nothing, if not resilient. Despite many setbacks and many disappointments, he maintains his sense of humour, his sense of optimism and, ultimately—and this is what I like best—his sense of gratitude.
At one point in his life, Stephen has a bad accident and breaks his neck. For nine months he is in a brace and is effectively removed from the world of auditions. Somehow, near the end of this period, his agent lands him an audition for a role in Heroes. He arrives at the building where auditions are supposed to take place, still wearing his brace. He’s afraid to take it off. After such a long time out of the loop, he’s nervous about the whole processing of auditioning.
When Tobo finally is let into the building he finds it virtually deserted. No one is expecting him. It turns out the auditions are the next day… One could easily imagine an actor throwing a hissy-fit at such a point. But Tobo just takes breath, reminds himself how lucky he is to even be in the acting industry and drives placidly back home. Next day he returns like nothing has happened, and he gets the part.
It is such incidents as this that really make the book for me: moments when we come to appreciate Stephen’s humanity, his good heart, his openness to new possibilities.
Tobo did indeed teach me many new and interesting things about the acting industry. For example, I learned the difference between stage acting, which I understand, and movie acting which I do not. It helped explain why I wasn’t hired, even as an extra, the one time I auditioned for a movie!
Many times I laughed out loud while reading this book: once, for example at learning his mother’s advice as Tobo rents his first apartment in L.A. “Stephen, whatever you do, don’t go into porno.” But I also sighed too, in sharing Stephen’s disappointments and regrets. By the end of the book, I am left feeling I know far more than a bunch of funny stories. I have come to know the man, Stephen Tobolowsky, and he’s someone I like and someone I wish well.
Here’s what he writes to start of his acknowledgements at the end of the book: “To my wife, Ann, for the countless hours, the love, the crises weathered at every stage of our lives together—including this book.”
What’s not to like?
A very solid, 7/10.